By Olivia Hanrahan-Soar | KF18 | Zambia and South Africa
Right now, I’m in the middle of a Zambian road trip. I’m working with one of Kiva’s newest non-traditional partners, Mobile Transactions Zambia (MTZ): a business which provides funds to entrepreneurs who want to own mobile money kiosks all over Zambia. This is Kiva’s first foray into mobile money, and it’s proving to be extremely valuable for the borrowers as well as their communities. Msanide, for instance, wants to become an MTZ agent: instead of transporting cold, hard cash, people will be able to use Msanide’s shop to send money quickly, safely and cheaply all over the country.
Check out Mundia and Muyoyeta for more : I’ve visited both of them this week, via a small odyssey involving a two-day drive through a nature reserve, home to the Zambian cheetah, and a mosquito-infested swamp crossing. These guys are great examples of how mobile money technology is connecting rural communities to the rest of the economy: like M-PESA in Kenya, MTZ has the potential to be a real catalyst for change in Zambia.
In countries like this, where as little as 8% of the population have access to traditional bank accounts, financial transactions via mobiles provide a much-needed solution to those who cannot afford banking fees, stomach the inefficient post office services or risk the loss or theft of large amounts of cash in transit.
It’s fairly well-known that mobile money has taken off in Africa like nowhere else. It works like this: people deposit money in a cell phone account, which can be used to send remittances to relatives or money to business partners all over Zambia. Users are charged a small fee, of which a commission is paid to agents like Msanide.
Agents need a certain amount of capital to start their business; to buy and decorate their kiosk, for instance; to hire tellers; and to provide a float to transact on. This is where Kiva comes in, and is much appreciated (I learnt this week that MTZ mobile money agents are able to pay out almost twice as much money to clients as a leading competitor, essentially due to the addition of Kiva funds).
MTZ’s mobile money agents may not be typical Kiva borrowers, and their line of work might seem unfamiliar for those of us based in the US or Europe: but this doesn’t make them any less deserving of lenders’ support. During this week’s trip around the Western Province of Zambia, I’ve realised just how valuable it is to allow cash to electronically cross distances. Zambia has its fair share of distances: I’ve just returned from a seven-hour boat trip along the Zambezi (seated comfortably between two charming piles of fish), a journey which would take less than half that time were there a viable road between towns. Without mobile transfers, people would be forced to transport their Kwacha in fish-filled boats like mine, greatly reducing security as well as incentives to earn and save. MTZ’s agents are helping to alleviate these problems.
MTZ are now looking at ways to expand into providing services for bill payments, so people can use their accounts to pay school fees, church donations, electricity bills, and the like. I’m excited to see this development, and if you are too, you can help by lending funds to MTZ’s entrepreneurs here.
If you’ve made it down this far in my blog post, congratulations: I reward you with this awesome picture of two snuggling Zambian baby zebras, who I encountered while visiting a borrower on the Zimbabwe border last week.
Olivia Hanrahan-Soar is a Kiva Fellow, serving in Zambia and South Africa this summer. She’s currently based in Lusaka, working with field partner MTZ (also known as Zoona); you can lend to an MTZ borrower here. So far, her zebra count is up to four.